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Neuralgia is the term used to describe the pain that a person experiences as a result of nerve damage. Suboccipital neuralgia, also called occipital neuralgia, is one of the types of neuralgia. It is characterized by a cycle of pain, then muscle spasms in the neck, and then pain that radiates around the regions of the head and sometimes occurs behind the eyes.
The suboccipital nerve is actually a set of two nerves, and neither one actually comes into contact with any part of the skull, but they are part of a neural network. Generally, it is one of the other nerves closest to one of the suboccipital nerves that has suffered damage and is one of the common causes of suboccipital neuralgia. The suboccipital nerves affect the area along the base of the skull and a little of the area behind the ears. Occipital headaches will often start at the back of the head and radiate around the side to the front.
Symptoms of suboccipital neuralgia are commonly mistaken for other problems, such as cluster headaches. To distinguish between suboccipital neuralgia and other problems, doctors must know specific details about what other things are noticed during the headaches. The headaches should cause pain in the same areas each time and start in the same part at the base of the skull. The scalp most likely will be extremely sensitive, and hair brushing could be painful. Some sufferers will have pain behind the eyes, but not all sufferers do.
Treating suboccipital neuralgia can take some time as doctors work to find an exact cause — if one exists — for the pain and find techniques that are effective against the pain. Some patients find that heat and massage therapy work well. Others who suffer from suboccipital neuralgia have more severe pain and find relief only from prescription medications and nerve blocks.
Suboccipital neuralgia is not a life-threatening condition, but it can be life-altering. The pain and muscle spasms can be extreme. Suffering regularly can affect daily activities and cause sufferers to restrict how they do things and what they choose to do.
Muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medications, and pain relievers are effective treatments. It is up to the doctors to determine which treatments are most beneficial and whether the damage is extensive enough for surgery. People who suffer from these symptoms and have received proper diagnosis should discuss all options thoroughly with their doctors.